The Hurricane is exciting while it lasts

Before he was posted to the Tuamoto Archipelago, Dr. Kersaint was warned “those islands are sometimes visited by hurricanes, and from all accounts, they are most unpleasant things.”

Fifteen years later, Kersaint tells a young colleague the story of a handful of one hurricane’s survivors.

A man, a woman holding a baby, and a second woman cling to branches in a tree as hurricane roars.
Detail from the cover of The Hurricane.

 The Hurricane by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall

Little, Brown, 1935. 275 p. 1936 bestseller #7. My grade: B-.

As the hurricane bears down on the Archipelago, the French, who administer the South Pacific islands, are seeking an escaped criminal, a native lad who a British merchant seaman had been training to take over his shipping business.

Terangi has been pulled from the sea by the local priest and brought home.

When the islands’ administrator accidentally discovers Terangi’s relatives are conspiring to help him get away, he sails off to find  the convict, leaving his wife at home watching the barometer fall.

Writer team Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall skillfully punctuate gray blurs of terrifying sound and sleep-deprived ache with vivid details that make readers feel the narrator truly lived through a hurricane.

They do not, however, go beyond telling an exciting story.

The survivors of  “the wind that overturns the land”  survive unchanged.

That’s would be impossible for anyone whose adventures occur outside their armchairs.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The High and the Mighty is taut and scarey

Ernest K. Gann’s The High and the Mighty is to aviation novels what Gone with the Wind  is to Civil War novels.

A commercial airline is leaving Honolulu for San Francisco. The crew meticulously checks everything that could possibly go wrong , knowing that failure of some tiny, unseen part somewhere could trigger a series of small failures that could plunge everyone on board to their deaths.

They take off

At 35, Sullivan, is a seasoned pilot. His co-pilot took to the air in 1917; aside from a brief period after a crash in which his wife and son and all but one other passenger perished, Roman has been flying ever since.

The other three crew members and the 16 passengers are standard Hollywood issue: a pair of newly weds, a couple splitting up, a whore with a heart of gold, a dying man, an all-business millionaire. Their stories cover the long blocks of time when nothing is happening in the cockpit.

A pilot himself,  Gann writes with precise, spine-chilling detail about the plane’s operation and the mental and emotional courage of the crews that keep them flying.

Gann’s story is  implausible in a predictable, hollywood way, but peopled with characters so vividly drawn that the tale is unforgettable.

The High and the Mighty
by Ernest K. Gann
William Sloane Associates, 1953
342 pages
1953 bestseller # 6
My grade:  B
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Missing The Caine Mutiny would be a crime

Sixty years on, ‘s 1951 novel The Caine Mutiny remains a testament to the complexity and perversity of human nature.

Pleasant, bright but not brilliant, Willie Keith’s goal in life is to get away from his mother. When his draft number comes up, he joins the Navy.

Assigned to a Pacific minesweeper, Willie quakes, expecting a life where his life hangs by a thread every minute.

Reality is very different.

A floating rust bucket, the Caine ferrys supplies and hauls targets. Her scuzzy crew does their jobs offhandedly, ignoring Navy regulations. Willie is appalled.

Then Captain Queeg takes over the ship. He’s a by-the-book man. Willie initially applauds his attempts to enforce standards . Gradually, however, Queeg is revealed as a petty tyrant, a lousy seaman, and quite probably a coward.

Inevitably, Tom Keefer, an officer whose spare time is devoted to writing a novel, suggests that Queeg may be mentally unfit for duty. The “mutiny” grows from that seed.

As Willie realizes that Queeg’s judgment cannot entirely be trusted, readers realize that Willie’s judgment can’t always be trusted either. In all honesty, we have to see that, like Willie, we sometimes dislike people with too-little reason, and we like people whose behavior we should consider despicable.

The Caine Mutiny: A Novel of World War II
by Herman Wouk
International Collectors Library, 1951
498 pages
#2 on the bestseller list in 1951 and 1952
My grade: A

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni